Jay Earley A Social Movement for the Great Turning
A Social Movement for the Great Turning
Jay Earley, PhD
This article suggests that we must create a social movement in order to succeed in transforming our society and world. It explores what such a movement might look like and how to foster it.
The world and the U.S. are in trouble. You may say, “Yeah, that’s obvious. Look at what Trump and the right wing are trying to do.” And, yes. That thrust toward fascism is an immediate threat to our democracy and society, and Trump and the Republicans must be stopped at all costs. And there are right wing demagogues that have come in power in other countries, too. However, we are facing even larger problems that this, though they may not be quite so obvious. In the long term, they are even more dangerous than Trump.
The Planetary Crisis and the Great Turning
We are in the midst of a planetary crisis and historical transformation. By this I don’t mean that society will by transformed in just a few years. I mean that the degree of change will be system-wide—all-encompassing. The severity of problems we are confronting is staggering–climate change, terrorism, racism, mass shootings, homelessness, extinction of species, massive migrations, and the takeover of our governments by corporations and the rich. The list goes on and on. But it is not chance that all these things are happening at this time in history. We have come to the end of a historical era, and our old ways of doing business are no longer working.
For the last 3 or 4 hundred years, those of us in the developed nations have lived mostly in what is called the Industrial Era or the Modern Era. We have adopted a worldview based on science, rational thought, technology, and competition for power. We have treated the natural world as a machine to be analyzed and controlled. We have treated other people and other nations this way. We have even treated ourselves this way. This approach has brought us tremendous gains in knowledge, individuality, freedom, and comfort, but its very success has now spawned problems that it can’t deal with. For example, social media are supposed to help connect us, but there is evidence that shows that they lead to greater alienation.
The tremendous explosion of our technical power, our population, and our ability to exploit the earth brings a whole new set of issues which our industrial worldview can’t comprehend. The industrial worldview can’t think in terms of limits or being part of a whole. It doesn’t understand feelings or intuition or cooperation. It has outlived its usefulness, and our continued attempts to apply it to our current problems are only making matters worse.
Our current lifestyle of material consumption and personal ambition has also outlived its day. This lifestyle, which once made so much sense in fueling our drive toward freedom and mastery of our environment, is now contributing to the problems and dangers we face. Capitalism has gotten out of control leading to massive inequality and corporate dominance of the political process.
To make matters worse, a significant part of the world hasn’t even entered the Modern Era yet. They are stuck in the religious fundamentalisms of the previous era, and they are attempting to drag us back into the past. And some of them reside in the U.S. and other developed nations.
In addition, many people are aware of how corporations have taken over the government of many developed nations, creating great inequality, unemployment, and wage stagnation. And as a result, these people have turned to authoritarian types like Trump, thinking that they will solve this problem. Of course, it is just the opposite. Trump and other dictators or world-be dictators are only making matters worse. However, the good news is that the people who object to government by the wealthy and corporations, may be induced to join our movement if we can help them to see who is really on their side.
Our society is in crisis; it is breaking down, and the current Republican craziness in Washington is one symptom of that. This crisis is producing tremendous dangers and stresses, but it also is pushing us toward the changes we need. It is leading toward a different worldview and an entirely new set of life-affirming social structures that are appropriate to the current historical situation.
Our collective psyche is erupting with signs and portents of this new way of being. We don’t know what it will finally be, but we have hints that it will be built on a foundation of cooperation, interconnectedness, and an interest in the inner life and spirituality, and that it will involve cultural and racial diversity, social justice, human scale institutions, and reverence for the earth. Wouldn’t this be a beautiful world to live in! And we can begin to live it now, by creating loving community within the movement and by initiating small scale changes in our social structures which move us toward this beautiful world that our hearts know is possible (to borrow the phrase from Charles Eisenstein).
We won’t discard the advantages of science, analytic thought, and technology. Instead we’ll integrate them with these new emerging values in a life-affirming synthesis.
This transformation has been called the Great Turning, and it is the most important thing that is happening on the planet, though it is invisible to most people. That is the way it always happens with transformations; they aren’t apparent until they have progressed far enough to penetrate mass consciousness. So, even though you won’t hear about the Great Turning in the news, it is well underway, as has been documented by many of our thought leaders.
There have been five social transformations before in human history, as I explain in my book Transforming Human Culture. The most recent one was the transition into the Modern/Industrial Era, which included the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the scientific and industrial revolutions. It is also important to see human history as part of the larger cosmic and biological evolution of the universe. This helps us to realize that we humans are part of nature and the universe, not separate from it.
We need transformation at every level, not just politics and economics, but also our worldview and consciousness, our values, and our social institutions, such as education, religion, the justice system, prisons, energy, transportation, communication, health care, media, entertainment, community, agriculture, forestry, and fishing. Transformation doesn’t mean discarding the past entirely; it means keeping the best practices, values, and institutions from the Modern (and previous eras) and integrating them with the new transformed culture.
Need for a Movement for the Great Turning.
I believe that we need to nurture a social movement for the Great Turning, for whole-scale, life-affirming transformation. I think this is our best chance for success. By a social movement, I mean a broad, diverse coalition of groups, organizations, individuals, and movements that work together for an over-arching social or political goal for society, even though the exact details of the goal and of the strategy for getting there will change and evolve over time. I see the groups and movements that make up the mega-movement as long-term, ongoing, and bonded within themselves.
The beginnings of this movement already exist and are growing, but we need much greater involvement and the movement needs to be organized to work together for this larger goal. However, I don’t mean that it should be centralized, which one person or group deciding everything. It needs to be coordinated in that every person and groups has roughly the same goals, but there will be a great diversity of perspectives and opinions, which must be respected, even while we learn to work together. It also must be a global movement, involving as many nations and cultures as possible, so the whole world is involved in the Great Turning!
I have been disappointed to see how little discussion there has been about such a movement, even among transformational writers. Yet I believe it is the most important issue of our day. When I think about what needs to happen for us to consciously foster this transformation, I believe we need a consciously created social movement that works together in a coherent way.
There has been a lot written about how we, as individuals, can orient ourselves to the Great Turning and take appropriate action, but we aren’t going to do this primarily as individuals. Our orientation toward individualism is part of the problem, though we still need healthy individuality in the new society. We need to create this transformation as individuals, groups, organizations, and movements—who come together as an overall movement for the Great Turning.
Fortunately, there has been a lot of excellent writing about what a healthy, transformed society might look like, but very little about how to get there. I believe that this is a grave error because we really need to understand how we can consciously work to create this movement. This article outlines my ideas about this movement, but I don’t believe that I have many of the answers. I am trying to suggest some possibilities and begin a serious dialogue about this so that the movement itself can generate the answers as they are needed. I am especially looking to form a group of people who are knowledgeable about movements to come together, discuss this, and come up with approaches and strategies for making such a movement successful. I will call this the Strategy Group.
I am open to the possibility that there are other initiatives oriented toward this kind of a movement. I am scouring the social change literature to see what else is being proposed or started, and I have found a few, which I would be happy to join with. We all need to work together on this, and it doesn’t matter whose ideas prevail or who gets the credit.
There have been a few suggestions for how to foster such a movement. Heikki Patomäki, from the Great Transition Initiative (www.greattransition.org), suggests that we need a World Political Party. And there seems to be a second Great Transition Initiative (www.greattransition.net), in which Andrew Gains suggests that we all become citizen educators to reach mainstream folks and help them see the need for a transition to a life-affirming culture.
This movement for the Great Turning needs to be very large and far reaching. It needs to be:
1. Working for a transformed society at all levels.
2. Focused on multiple social, ecological, and political issues.
3. Personal and spiritual as well as political and social.
4. Focused on changing consciousness and worldview as well as social structures.
5. Inclusive of all aligned organizations and movements.
This article is primarily focused on the U.S. and other developed nations—what we can do to foster this movement. However, ultimately it must spread around the world. Wise people in other parts of the world will hopefully contribute their ideas to the success of this movement.
The movement also must deal with the immediate threats to the earth and our civilization, especially climate change, because if we don’t handle these, there won’t be the possibility of a transformed society. Charles Eisenstein has written an excellent book, Climate: A New Story, which presents a new, hopeful perspective on climate change with exciting ideas about what we ordinary citizens can do to handle it.
Joanna Macy has delineated three types of activism that are needed at this time in history. (1) Holding actions in defense of the earth and democracy, (2) changing people’s worldviews, (3) creating new healthy social structures. Our movement must involve all three.
Learning from the Past
It would be great to learn how to create a movement like this by studying existing or previous movements, and we will certainly learn what we can. However, there hasn’t been a movement exactly like this before–one that is focused on whole-system transformation and deals with all social, political, and economic issues. Previous movements have been of two main types:
1. Social movements that aren’t organized, such as past movements like the Renaissance and the scientific revolution, and current movements such as the holistic health movement and the spiritual and personal growth movement. By not organized, I mean that the movements don’t have leaders, agendas, plans for society, and most importantly, coordination and collaboration. We need to have a movement that is organized, such as the single-issue movements (below) we are used to, but one that aims at whole-system transformation.
2. Single-issue political movements that are against destructive things, such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, climate change, and the Trump resistance movement. These include many progressive movements and groups such as those chronicled by Paul Hawken in his book Blessed Unrest. These organizations are very important and should continue their work on the issues they care about, and they will also hopefully identify as being part of the larger mega-movement.
Part of the movement for the Great Turning already exists, but it isn’t organized, so I can reframe this article as being about how to organize the existing movement, create new groups to be part of it, and help it to spread.
The closest existing movement to what we need to create is perhaps the women’s movement. It is both personal and political. It is broad in scope and addresses many issues, and it focuses on what women want as well as what they want stopped. And it is now becoming big again, and it could have a huge impact on this mega-movement. As women begin to fully take back their power, they are showing an amazing ability to win elective office and make a major difference in political success.
Another similar movement is the environmental movement, because it is quite broad and does contain some groups that aren’t just against bad things but are also working for new healthy ways of relating to the environment, and it has a personal/spiritual element to it. However, it is mostly against things.
The progressive movement is important, too, especially since it is gaining traction in Democratic politics. Progressives have focused primarily on economic and racial issues, which are central, but most of them haven’t recognized that we need whole-system transformation. Progressives have mainly been against destructive things. And this is crucially important work–to hold back the many threats to our democracy, our health, and our environment, especially now that we are dealing with Trump and the possibility of fascism. There has been some interesting thinking about using story to aid progressive movements.
However, this resistance isn’t enough. We need to work for a transformation of all aspects of society. Charles Eisenstein even argues in his book Climate: A New Story that a complete social transformation is needed to deal with climate change.
Components of the Great Turning Movement
In my view, this movement should have the following components.
1. It needs to include or collaborate with the single-issue groups and movements, as outlined in Paul Hawken’s Blessed Unrest, and especially including important movements such as Black Lives Matter, climate change, and Me Too. It would be ideal if these organizations and movements recognize that they can be part of this larger social transformation movement and work together to create it, because if we succeed in transforming society, their causes will be aided greatly. If any other movements spring up to contribute to social transformation, we must collaborate with them, so all are working together to create a new world.
2. It also needs to birth and encourage small groups that are created to be part of this Great Turning movement. These will need to be cohesive, committed, and long term. They will involve not only political action but also consciousness raising and education (about the current state of the world, the prospect for transformation, the evolutionary perspective, spiritual aspects of the new society, and more), capacity development (such as leadership, productive conversations, collaboration, etc.), group bonding, mutual support for finding one’s personal contribution based on a sense of life purpose, and preparation for action when the time comes.
There will probably be many types of small groups that will form, depending on the type of people who are creating them. For example, the groups that I form and those that come out of the Pachamama Alliance may tend to be made up of baby boomers who are spiritually and psychologically oriented as well as concerned about the earth and social justice. Other people will create other small groups that have a different focus within the larger movement. For example, there might be small groups for young people, for Latinos, for academics, for Christians, for French people, for African-Americans, for indigenous people, and so on. Some groups may form through social media. And small groups in other cultures or countries will probably have a somewhat different form than those in the U.S. We will aim to have all the small groups share the most important understandings and coordinate their actions, but they will have their own unique perspectives.
3. Coalition building will be extremely important to connect all these groups and movements. We will need to learn how to reach people in existing activist groups and movements and engage them in this vision of whole-system transformation. It will challenge us to be open to connecting with and working with diverse groups of people. There have been many attempts to create an umbrella movement that would include existing activist groups, which they have mostly failed, so it is possible that this aspect of the movement may run into trouble, especially at first. Hopefully, when we have grown the movement through the small groups and it is becoming visible and hopeful, then the coalition building will succeed.
4. The new movement needs a vision of a transformed society, to inspire people and provide a broad focus for organizing. Even though we don’t know exactly what the new society will look like, we know enough about what is possible to inspire people to get involved with the movement. Stories about a healthy society and about how to get there are very useful, including novels, screenplays, and visions.
Phases of the Great Turning Movement
The following are some preliminary ideas of mine about how this movement might develop. I don’t pretend that they are final, by any means. They are just a jumping off point.
1. Strategy Group. The first phase of the movement will probably consist of study and dialogue about the best ways for this movement to work. This will be mostly done by people who are experienced and knowledgeable about social action and movement building. I imagine that this strategy group will discuss various options for how the movement might be successful and come up with a strategy for getting there. We will try to understand as much as we can from what we already know about how to make such a movement work, but this group will need to keep observing the nascent movement as a develops and
2a. Consciousness Raising. In order to transform society, we must help people to understand the need for radical change and to value the changes that are needed. So, the second step will have to be focused mainly on consciousness raising and helping people to transform their values and worldview to that needed for a transformed society. It will also involve education about the current state of the world and what is needed to fix this. In the small groups, we will first focus on transforming our own worldviews and consciousness and then on reaching out to others to help them transform theirs.
2b. Cleaning up local ecosystems. At the same time, we can focus on healing local rivers, oceans, mountains, wetlands, forests, coral reefs, etc., with the goal of having healthy local ecosystems to help mitigate climate change, as Charles Eisenstein has advocated in his book, Climate: A New Perspective.
2c. Experimenting with social structures. Some of the new social structures that are needed for a healthy society can be implemented on a small scale right now without having to change existing social structures. For example, we can experiment with (1) healthy private schools that foster emotional intelligence, allow students to follow their interests, and promote whole-person learning, (2) local currency systems that allow a steady-state economy, or (3) new forms of local governance that can’t be influenced by money.
3. Changing society. When those small-scale structures have been developed, tested out, and improved to where they are working, and when we have expanded the size of the movement so that we have significant political power, then the movement can work to change the existing social structures, such as the economy, government, justice, etc. This will involve interacting with the existing power structures, so it is the most difficult phase of the work. We will need to know how to handle and rebuff attempts by opposition groups to undermine the movement.
Small Group Activities
I see these small groups as the heart of this mega-movement. I imagine them engaging in a wide variety of activities. Here is a partial list:
Capacity Building. The members of the small group will work on developing our capacities for successfully engaging in movement building.
• Leadership skills
• Collaboration and coalition building
• Public speaking
• Helping others to transform their worldview
• Empowering others to participate in the movement
• Capacities for creating and leading new small groups in the movement
• Capacity to engage in social action from a spiritual perspective as they did at Standing Rock.
Group Bonding. For each small group to be successful, the members must bond with each other in a way that keeps them connected and active.
• Working through conflict
• Expressing appreciation for each other
• Collaborating on projects
• Empathy and compassion
• Supporting each other
Education. The group members need to learn about many things in order to be successful in fostering the mega-movement.
• The current state of the world
• How democracies work
• The prospect for transformation
• The evolutionary perspective
• Spiritual aspects of the new society
Consciousness Raising. The group members will work on understanding the limitations of our current worldview and the possibilities for a transformed consciousness and the attitudes needed to create a new society.
• Exploring our attitudes toward the current world crisis
• Exploring our attitudes toward a movement for a transformed society
• Exploring hope vs. despair
• Working through blocks to action
• Exploring our life purpose and contribution to transformation
• Connecting with nature
• Understanding how oppression has affected you and the most useful ways to respond, both internally and externally. How to enhance the movement through the perspective that this has given you.
• Recognizing when you have been traumatized and learning how to heal and flourish, possibly using Internal Family Systems Therapy, which can be practiced as self-therapy.
Communication. The group members will work on learning how to communicate successfully with other people in the group and with people who might become part of the larger movement.
Resolving interpersonal conflict, both within the small group and with other organizations, guided by Non-Violent Communication.
• Giving honest feedback to each other
• Talking with people in despair to give them hope.
• Conversations about social issues, especially learning to empathize with people who disagree with us.
• How to get people excited and inspired about the social movement
Working through Blocks. The group members will work on becoming aware of the psychological and spiritual blocks that limit their successful activism, communication, consciousness, or capacity building. They will work through these blocks using powerful, user-friendly forms of self-therapy and spiritual development. This emphasis on inner work will help group members to become powerful and effective organizers.
Understanding a Transformed Society. The group members will study the different components of a transformed society, so we know what possibilities we are working toward.
• Political structures
• Economic structures
• The justice system
• Health care
Changing Worldview and Values. Helping other people and society at large to see into the unexamined assumptions behind their current worldview and to change it to one that reflects the more beautiful world we want to create. Also, helping people to be open to values that are cooperative, spiritual, interconnected, and caring.
Learning to Love the Earth. Engaging in activities that help us to connect to connect with forests, rivers, mountains, animals, wetlands, and other earth beings in a way that open our hearts to the natural world.
Helping other people and society at large to fall in love with the earth and the local biomes near them.
Creating Small Scale Social Structures. Joining together to experiment with healthy social structures that can be created now without having to change the existing system. For example, we might experiment with healthy private schools, local currency systems that are ecological sound, or new forms of local governance.
Working to Transform Existing Social Structures.
• Changing the monetary system, the court system, the economy, the political system, and everything else.
• Using art, humor, and story to engage the public when engaging in action.
As we experiment with these small groups, we will draw on what is already known about many of these topics and about how to develop many of these capacities. I have mentioned a couple of existing methods (NVC and IFS), and there will probably be many others that we will experiment with and use. This may mean bringing in experts to advise us. We will also probably develop our own understandings of the best way to engage in many of these activities. When we have honed our ability to structure and lead the small groups successfully, that knowledge will spread to all the small groups.
Small Group Development
It may take quite a while to develop the small group process in a way that really works, but we will work at that until it happens. Then we will empower members of current small groups to learn the skills and attitudes that will enable them to start new small groups that will be successful. We will probably need some sort of training and education program for these new organizers to support them in this.
I am not assuming that each small group will operate in the same way. Some of them will develop different norms that work for them, and some will focus on special social issues that are meaningful to them. The small groups will operate in a variety of nations and cultures, and each will have their own insights to contribute. But this will be done within the larger understanding that we are primarily working for the larger transformation of society.
In the initial stages, the small group activities will involve some political and environmental action, but some of the action that will be required to complete the transformation must wait until we have the power and reach to be successful. So, we must make the small groups engaging enough in their own right that their members will be happy to stay with them until the time for full-scale social action comes.
If you would like to contribute to this movement, you might want to do it in one of the following ways:
1. Joining the Strategy Group to figure out how this mega-movement could be structured to succeed.
2. Contributing your ideas on the mega-movement without joining the Strategy Group. This might involve dialoguing with us in some way or with other people.
3. Joining a pilot small group where the focus is on creating a vibrant small group while learning the skills and procedures to make the small group culture successful.
4. Creating a small group that fits your values or subculture. It would benefit from what we will learn about small groups, but it would be oriented toward you and your people.
5. Joining one of the small groups that are created.
Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to be part of this.
 Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown
Active Hope, Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone
The Great Turning, David Korten
 Global Mind Change, Willis Harman
Awakening Earth, Duane Elgin
Creating a World that Works for All, Sharif Abdullah
The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible, Charles Eisenstein
Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken
 Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality, Ken Wilber
The Universe Story, Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry
The Passion of the Western Mind, Richard Tarnas
Evolution: The Grand Synthesis, Ervin Laszlo
 Daniel Wahl, Designing Regenerative Cultures.
Michael Albert, Practical Utopias
Charles Eisenstein, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible
Charles Eisenstein, Climate: A New Story
Charles Johnston, Necessary Wisdom
David Korten, The Post-Corporate World
Paul Hawken, Natural Capitalism
Tom Atlee, Empowering Public Wisdom
Duane Elgin, Promise Ahead
Daniel Quinn, Ishmael
 Return of the Light, Michael Goldstein
 Re:Imagining Change, Patrick Reinsborough & Doyle Canning
Dream: Reimagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy, Stephen Duncombe
 The Fifth Scared Thing, Starhawk
Ecotopia, Ecotopia Emerging, Ernest Callenbach
Chronicles of the Upheavals, Sharif Abdullah
Pacific Edge, Kim Stanley Robinson
The Dispossed, Ursula LeGuin
 Imagine, Marianne Williamson
Imagining American in 2033, Herbert Gans
The Return of the Light, Michael Goldstein